Slamming was the word applied to the activity in which at a young age Keith Ensing invested a large amount of his inheritance. It was what made him enough money to get Redwoodland off the ground. And who among those who lived during that time could ever forget the controversy Slamming caused?
Originally the idea was to use satellite systems—satellite photography, specifically—perfectly available to the public, yet utilized in such a way that someone viewing the images, under conducive conditions, experienced the sensation of looking at the world…from beyond it. The conditions conducive to this sensation ranged from viewing the images in a helmet to stepping into a small isolation chamber and undergoing the experience there. This latter case was what seemed to bring the greatest effect. Such was the clarity and realism of the illusion, when an occupant in a booth used the technology to zoom the view from satellite to planet at great speed, the results pushed to the limits certain areas of the brain. Stressed to what the brain perceived to be the brink of death, the pineal gland—an endocrine organ which produces the hormone melatonin—responded in a way that Slammers found revelatory in the extreme.
People were seeing forms of energy, learning about the energy within them, and when they tasted of the possibilities inside themselves they saw natural life in conflict with the man-made world. When this dormant organ at the center of the brain, called by some the Third Eye, revealed inner vision to the ready individual, results proved overwhelmingly positive in that people reported greater memory retention, markedly improved overall cognitive ability and increased questioning of established cultural norms.
Public access to satellite technology soon thereafter ceased.
But in that time Keith Ensing made his killing, and there were some who said he took a massive payoff from the government to sell it the patent rights, and that the drastically modified version of Slamming which spread across the country, promoted by the governmental System, actually harmed various areas of the brain and did nothing to stimulate the pineal gland at all.
Still, with Redwoodland the killing for Keith Ensing was infinitely greater. From all over the world people came to ride the track through the redwoods, where the bulging burls talked like giant heads on living trees for miles and miles and miles in the world’s biggest amusement park and natural forest preserve....
Wildfires pounding the state were sending prey and predator alike scattering for cover. People were reporting black bears and mountain lions as never before on roads and around homes. Hiking alone on a forest trail differed little from a dip in the ocean, and if a predator were to suddenly appear, Jay realized, his chances for survival would be about as high as if a white shark mistook him for a seal. The prospect therefore of spending the night in his hollow tree–“Even the trees around here are burned out,” he said the first time he saw one–lost to the proffered black-gloved hand of his strangely silent friend, a secret outcast like himself and possessor of a scent he could not fully appreciate, due to a near-drowning incident years before which did not eradicate, but permanently impaired his sense of smell.
“Bitchin’ view, dude,” Jay said to what was Will Todd. He wiped the edges of his mouth and stuffed the used paper napkin into the empty Yoga Yogurt cup, then sat at the lip of the upper crypt, kicking legs dangling, looking into the interior chamber where the dark figure quietly wrote.
“I put that new lock on the chain outside for you. Got you that hacksaw, too, just in case. Lock looks just like the one the caretaker replaced. I guess you saw the keys where I put them next to that other tape recorder, right? You might want to clean that one off a little. It’s got some kind of mud all over it. ”
Nothing. But for the scraping of the pen in the slowly moving hand, the figure could have been a statue.
“Makes me feel like I’m back in the ol’ school days, watching you do your homework there or whatever. All diligent and all. It’s cool. Kind of trippin’ me out though, you know? Like when there’s one of those tests, and you totally haven’t even cracked a book. You’re probably just doing some of that paperwork to set up shop at the fair I guess. Awesome, dude. Kind of the grim way to get it though, you know?”
The bandaged face under the dark hat turned up.
“Well, I’m just saying what are the chances that the lady at the book store with the psychic booth gets stabbed right before the fair? And by her own kid. Whoa. Sucks for her, major score for you.”
From behind Jay boomed a stentorian voice. “Hey you! Get out of there!”
Jay turned to see a tall, overweight man standing close to the iron gate of the crypt’s entrance. One hand was on the new padlock which gave the appearance of securing the gate. The other pulled a heavy set of keys on a retractable metal chain clipped to a belt hidden beneath the man’s sagging paunch. It was the caretaker. The glimmer in his eyes and set of his jaw told Jay the man relished catching him with the satisfaction of a man lying in bed late at night who hears a rat trap snap.
“I got you now, buddy boy. I got you now.” The caretaker said this more to himself than to Jay, but his satisfaction quickly turned to confusion as he realized the key on his chain didn’t fit in the lock. “Get over here!” he ordered, rattling the gate in unveiled rage.
The last rays of the sun showed Jay the man’s bad teeth. Some of them were missing, the others were crooked and stained. They almost looked like little versions of headstones themselves tilted in the man’s mouth. Jay had no wish to decrease the gap between the caretaker and himself. The man’s indignation, Jay intuited, arose less from a sense of propriety and more from a petty desire to get back at life. Probably he feared for his job. But the caretaker looked like he could tear the gate off the hinges, and catching Jay dead to rights, he acted like he was about to.
Snapping the lock shut had only been an afterthought for Jay. He hadn’t seriously felt there was any need, and nearly didn’t bother with the pretense only half an hour before, just to avoid the hassle of having to reach through and unlock it again. Jay was on the point of explaining something to this effect when the caretaker’s attention was diverted by the slanted slab within, and the black-clad form which rose from the exposed hole.
Jay felt like a kid whose big brother showed up just in time to bully a bully. He watched while the dude stood opposite the caretaker and calmly removed his shades. Instantly the caretaker went visibly lax. It was hard to tell–it may have been a trick of the sun’s dying light–but it almost looked to Jay like the green vaguely flickering tint on the man’s vacant face came directly from the dude.
For a long, surreal moment the two stood opposite each other with what must have been locked eyes. Jay couldn’t see the dude’s face. It was as though nothing barred the two. So still, they could have been mirror images.
Then the next thing Jay knew, the dude was putting his glasses back on, and the caretaker wasn’t saying a word, but just turning on his heels and walking away, as though nothing had happened at all. Jay went over to the gate and watched while the caretaker left the cemetery, got into a beat up old pickup and drove off.
“Whoa,” he said. “That was really weird.” The dude turned around and climbed back down into the interior crypt. Neither Jay nor anyone else had any idea that when the caretaker got home, for some strange reason he cut off his left pinky toe with a pair of garden shears and ate it....
Even standing outside in the wind she could hear the doorbell clearly. No one could sleep through that. She stabbed the doorbell a few more times, then found her hand checking the doorknob. It turned. Slowly Julie opened the door.
It was dark inside. The filth was awful. In the murky gloom of Denny’s home Julie saw not only plates and cups lying around, broken and molding, but furniture apparently knocked about and overturned as well. Cobwebs were everywhere. A black stain evidently having spilled over from something on the stove draped the front of the oven and parts of the kitchen floor. That part was exactly like what she had seen in her vision.
Ocean wind blowing in stirred a stale scent which made Julie wince. Opening the door as far as it would go and setting a chair against it she called out, “Anybody home?” as she moved toward the kitchen.
A door appeared, as she knew it would. Propping it open with a skillet on the floor, she flipped the switch to the basement lights which provided a dim yellowy glow.
A quick sweep of the counter behind her and her eyes locked onto a set of knives. From Utterly Cutlery, she realized. Selecting the biggest, she headed down the stairs.
“What are you doing?” she thought. “This is ridiculous. I should go back for the gun. I know I’m right. I know he did it. How much proof do I need? What if he has a gun and he sees me with this knife of his sneaking around in his house? What if he saw me storming up to his house bright and early and went ahead and called the cops?”
Wrapped in her thoughts, she found herself in a long narrow aperture before a small rectangular door. In her vision, she had seen Denny pushing Turk, wrapped in duct tape, through the opening. By flashes and glimpses she saw Turk being eaten alive. The sound of the dog’s plaintive whining assailed her mind, as did the sight of gloating disgust fixed on her neighbor’s face in the opening he had constructed for that express purpose. If she opened the little door, would she see Turk’s body? Would whatever was inside–get out?
Then she realized, and through no vision, that the flea from hell had been in her neighbor’s house, growing. He had fed the thing her dog.
And on the instant she realized this, she turned and saw. It was blocking the way she had come in, blocking the way out. There was a head, shoulders, arms, legs. No clothing. Pinkish, fleshy, devoid of hair. Whatever it was that had affected her affected Denny Holmes as well. But differently. Denny Holmes was no more.
Blackish patches where eyes should have been stretched across the face–or rather, the front of the head. There was no actual face. Bizarre, dagger-like appendages hung in lieu of a mouth. Behind these dangled two insect-like arms, tucked up beneath where a neck would be. The thing had trouble standing upright due to the bulbous body it dragged behind. Shifting itself on freakishly rangy legs with the support of flailing arms along the walls of the narrow aperture as it positioned itself to spring, the thing loudly emitted excited chitters.
The leathery plating of the bulky sac-like body throbbed and the excited chittering coming from behind the daggers of the walrus mouth rose to frantic pitch to rival the torrent of bloodcurdling screams coming from Julie as she strove to open the little door to the room just in time to drop the knife and dive in headlong, barely avoiding the thing as nightmarishly it suddenly sprang fifteen feet across the narrow aperture.
Inside the interior room, sunk six feet deeper than the level of the basement, Julie could hear the thing scrambling to right itself. It had overshot the opening enough that she could now see the obscene dartboard-like rings at the base of the sac. Unable to turn around, and having a hard time backing up, could it even fit through the opening? Julie hoped not.
All of this she took in on the instant, grateful for the single bulb illuminating the room. There were stains on the floor, stinking of decomposition. The only avenue out other than the one she came in was a hole in a plywood wall big enough to admit her.
Looking back as she climbed through, Julie was shocked to see the thing in the opening drop down inside. Was it her imagination, or did the arms now appear considerably less human? No, the body was definitely more tapered, the shoulders entirely gone.
A broken two-by-four on the other side skidded over the concrete when she accidentally kicked it with her shin just as the creature slammed into the plywood behind her. She was in the crawl space now, making her way to the exit. Behind, furious limbs flailed as it tried to wriggle through the hole in the plywood, too. Julie grabbed the two-by-four and chopped at the thing’s emerging head with everything she had.
Screaming, she jabbed an end at a black indistinguishable eye. It backed off–only for a moment. But in that moment Julie saw it definitely was smaller now.
Ahead of her, between the concrete wall of the basement on her left, and a wall on her right consisting of two-by-four uprights and spacers on the back side of the plywood, a dirt incline took her the six feet back up to the original level of the basement. She could see the steps ahead of her.
Heart racing, she powered up the steps into the kitchen. At the moment that she tried to lock it in the basement, the thing slammed into the door with a single prodigious leap from the base of the stairs, and with such force that the door hit Julie on the head, knocking her backwards.
With one foot forward she propelled herself on the floor toward the door, pinching the thing against the jamb with its six nightmare legs feverishly flailing under the jittering Nietzschean mustache.
Now the thing was half its former size, but by the way it slowly pushed open the door against her best efforts to stop it, she knew she couldn’t hold it off for more than a few seconds. Grabbing a mop from a heap of debris she jabbed at it well enough to get to her feet, yank the microwave from the counter in both hands and heave it with all her strength on the visibly diminishing shape that struggled to right itself in preparation for a leap toward the warm form of a host body pulsing with nourishment. The microwave hit the flea mid-air. Julie ran for the front door.
Still it was jumping behind her, hopping mad. Kicking the chair she’d used to prop the door, she grabbed the knob and slammed it shut as the flea shot through over her shoulder, horrifically brushing her hair in its ungainly and repulsive flight, flopping in the sand nearby, now about the size of a cat.
Julie caught sight of some big rocks at hand and started chucking them at the thing as it tried to flop away across the dunes, but now it was small enough and light enough that the strong ocean winds of Whale Harbor buffeted the thing about toward the crumbling rock of time-eroded bluffs. Julie watched as the flea was swept down a fissure in the rock, still visibly diminishing, and as she watched she saw his life flash before her eyes, while what had been Denny Holmes sank in a black canyon of infernal descent into an underworld with no return....
Morning came to Kyle like a hot breakfast thrown in his face. The walls thrummed with the approach of helicopters. The sound of the choppers did not pass but grew, filling the air in omnipresent waves like an ocean liner over an open sea of trees. Fischer was nowhere in sight. Kyle called out his name. No one else was there at all. Whether or not Fischer might have something going on here, Kyle didn’t want to stick around to find out.
Through a window he could see multiple choppers rising over the trees and bending them in rippling waves of green. Heading through the house he used the back door which went out to the hillside and there took to the thick cover of the trees, looking back in time to see figures dropping down on cables from hovering choppers like spiders on their webs. He didn’t think anyone saw him, but had no way to tell and expected every moment to encounter pursuit.
Even as he ran his mind scrambled to make the best choice of what to do. Did he dare just stand around and wait to potentially take the fall? Would they likely simply shoot him for running, then call it an accident if they called it anything at all? He’d had a rude awakening, was wrung out from the day and night before, and every bone in his body screamed to get away as far and fast as possible.
In chaos Kyle ran, as one with the wind-swept leaves.
Cody had his things packed and was heading out the door just when the shit hit. Heidi, having finally gotten the generator going around midnight, never did fall asleep either. Each was glad that Brandi had left to spend the night with Autumn in Radley. When Heidi heard the choppers coming in, she automatically ran downstairs to the gun room.
Already in his Pinto, Cody took the road toward the trees, trying to drive casual so as not to send up too much dust and call attention from the air, but still he was going so fast he overshot the bend and took the Pinto rattling down into a gulley, by sheer luck about the least rock-strewn one on the property, and threaded his way up and down either side of the trench trying to negotiate it, his own constant yelling barely audible in the mechanized thunder reverberating overhead.
Mobile task force units on the ground moved through morning mist, weapons drawn, scouring the land. The National Armed Resistance to Growers had a new member on the team in Neal the Narc, who did not think of himself by that name known to the rest of the community, but in a strange way not precisely irony yet somehow similar, did think of himself as Neal the NARG.
Puffing over the hills in spanking new special issue combat gear uniform fashioned with the helmet all tricked-out and the radio on, Neal the Narc dug the green combat vision with the visor down, flashing vital combat-mode tech info and crosshairs. The helmet received only one station. “…You’re tuned to the King—King KANG! Arbora, Newbrook, Glynville….” Everything was like a real video game now. It was like he died and went to heaven. And Neal the Narc was ready to score himself some points.
His was not to reason why the Bargerville surrounding region was not represented in the call letters of what had become, almost overnight, the only radio station, not just for NARGs, but the entire area. Nor was he informed by the area’s fastest-growing source of local news that the manager of the Bargerville LowCost, Roy Jorgens, whose past stint as a priest landed him the job, now faced allegations related to his time in the clergy, nor how as of yesterday evening the woman whose life Jorgens claimed to have saved in-store on-camera had confessed that the entire incident was, in fact, staged.
Of all that Neal the Narc knew nothing—and if he had, per mainstream instruction, would have chalked it all up to unfair bias. This right here was what he had signed up for. The grand adventure of liberating. Like a noble knight. It was all up to Neal the Narc and his trusty band of NARG brothers now. Way he heard it, satellite cameras embedded overhead were getting the whole thing for a regular joe reality heroism show.
Using the remote control on the back of his glove, Neal the Narc turned down the Regal Lager commercial and raised the visor up. “Hey guys,” he said, what’s going on?” He asked the question, but he could see. Neal the Narc had stumbled on a bunch of his NARG buds loading up baggies with fresh outdoor pot from the patch they found.
Intent as they all were, one of the NARGs looked at Neal the Narc. “Well, you got your baggie? Don’t tell me you forgot. Fuckin’ rookie!”
“What is it, Rick?” another said.
“Fuckin’ rookie here doesn’t have his baggie. Fuckin’ shit, look at this one.” Rick clipped a big bud and held it up. “Wait till Big Bill sees this baby. Fuckin’-a!”
“Shit man,” said still another, “last time on my crew they had us just load up nets with a bunch of brush so the choppers would have something to haul out for everybody to see.”
“Hey guys,” said Neal the Narc, taking furtive glances at the sky, “I thought the satellites were on us for the show.” Some of them said that wasn’t scheduled till next time. A couple others assured it would just get edited anyway. Neal the Narc asked if anybody had an extra baggie.
“No, not me.”
“Mine came with my equipment from LowCost. It’s supposed to be part of the kit you get.”
Neal the Narc reached into an oversize pants pocket and produced a small thin cardboard box bearing the LowCost label in which was, sure enough, a plastic zipper-seal bag. He tossed the box into the brush and started loading up his baggie. Just then, sudden sounds nearby caught his and the others’ attention.
Gunshots sounding like strings of firecrackers were going off. Hurriedly the NARGs in the patch packed their pot....
The midnight blue Karmann Ghia threaded through the redwoods. It was 10:41, Beau noticed, looking at his watch for no particular reason, having taken the turnoff from the highway back onto the Avenue for the very specific reason that he spotted a cop camped out across the bridge, all ready to make quota.
“Fuzz thwarted,” he announced. A quarter mile down the road, where the sign proclaims Avenue of the Giants, they got stuck behind a van.
“Looks like that one in ‘Up in Smoke,’” said Liliana.
Beau didn’t register his surprise at her referencing Cheech and Chong, saying merely, “Oh yeah.” An old bumper sticker, he noticed, had defiantly resisted being torn, so that S. OUT OF HUMB was all that remained. Suddenly he realized they hadn’t seen hardly any sketchy people at all. Certainly not in Laibrook, boasting the pastoral tranquility of golf. None on the north end of Bargerville thumbing, either. Not a single soul in a boofy knit hat with a hungry-looking dog held perhaps with a piece of rope, not a one in genii pants and weird scraggly beard. No body odor emanating from any shirtless sorts hitching rides on strange journeys next to piles of poorly packed stuff, skin of the thin limbs browned and burned and Biblical.
Taking the turn some miles later down to the bridge which they would cross before merging back on the highway, Beau looked for the old organic market, a Hippie store his parents patronized years ago for the fresh produce. It looked like something more or less was still there, but having to drive kept him from clearly seeing.
What he did see were people parked at the bottom of the hill, milling around on the bridge. Beau slowed down to a snail’s crawl.
“It’s like trying to drive at Fisherman’s Warf,” Liliana observed.
Beau had never seen so many people on Madrani Bridge in his life. “Hey, that guy right there,” he said, pointing, “I know him from way back. We were in school together.”
The slower they went and closer they got, the more faces from the past Beau recognized on the bridge. Down below, Mist River flowed, and the different colors on the wide swath of rocky sandbar sloping to greater deposits of the gray pebbly sand indicated the swelling levels of the river’s rhythms, filling up in the winter and receding in the summer, yet in the faces of the people he saw on the bridge few of the physical traces of time stood out passing by.
Merging with the highway alongside the river, Beau was glad to split the scene. He passed one turnoff to a town with a liquor store where he’d worked, years and years ago, and another where he’d also worked at a mill. If he thought about it, the distinctive muffled sound inside the cooler at the store, machinery droning up close, bottles in crates clinking at the touch, loose stacks of six-packs always in danger of falling, sour smells of previous spills, were memories all readily at hand. He could hear the buzzing grind of a machine at the mill called the Ripper, into the multiple blades of which one guy pushed a piece of lumber, another guy standing with his back to the pusher a few feet away receiving the jittery strips slowly worked through, the trick being to grab them at the right time in the right way, because failure to do so meant a funny rattling sound coming from the blades for a moment prior to a strip of wood suddenly shooting backward, zipping like an arrow hard enough to stick in a sheet of plywood, if it didn’t stick in the operator easily enough first. In the days Beau worked those jobs, he and Liliana were already history. How he had longed for those letters from her, with what eager anticipation did his trembling fingers remove the scented contents, pages penned by her sacred hand. And with what speed did he pour through the pages past the hum-drum itinerary, looking for and often finding the fluttery mush he so ardently craved. So many years had passed. So many lives already lived....
Phil took off his smock, placed it on the counter and stepped out the front door, which slammed satisfyingly behind him on a spring. Breathing deeply of the pulp mill from across the bay he shook his head and walked around the corner to where his car was parallel parked. He pulled his keys, got in, turned the ignition, put on his belt, checked the rear view mirror, and was just about to pull forward when there suddenly appeared directly in front of his car two figures who had not been there a split second before. One was a man with his back turned. The other Phil first took to be an albino child. But when the man turned, Phil saw that the other was no child at all.
The man, who looked at first as though in the throes of a wild fit, took on an unmistakably startled expression viewing his surroundings. The other, seeming to take advantage of this lapse in concentration, sprang nimbly away and ran down an alley.
The man gave chase.
Through the center of town the man ran. Past beggars pontificating in overripe robes, patchouli-drenched in ponchos and dreadlocks playing bongos on the quad. The white boiled egg head of the man’s diminutive quarry bobbed on slender frantic limbs past once-ornate Victorians in various stages of disrepair bedecked in tie-dye wind socks whipped in occasional gales.
In and out of doors.
Up and down the town they ran–past businesses–Nepal Noodle–Soy Boy–Whey To Go–over an arching bridge with a rainbow painted underneath the rapid white small form scurried from the pursuer–into a tunnel where skaters lazed and students bearing backpacks hustled to the university fitting their mouths around burritos–pell mell past classrooms they ran–thoroughfares clogged with plodders domino-like sloshed coffees–
Ex-biker Eddie at Wire You Hear cut off his own big toe when an acetylene torch sank in his slackened arm. Shelves went down when they ran through Bookin’ It. Rodeo Video was a mess. Utterly Cutlery, a disaster.
When it seemed the man had lost the creature, with a wound on his left hand dripping he made his way to a linen van parked with the back doors open. He grabbed a towel to bind his hand as from the white stacks and out the van the frantic creature darted.
A dog with a tick on its neck happening by licked blood on the road from the man’s wound..,..
Mary Christianson could not move. Even when the light through the window in the loft over the bed hit directly on her, Mary never moved a muscle, and was only dimly aware of consciousness itself, the one image playing like a mantra over and over in what was left of her mind being that of Twiggy. All memory of the night before was gone. No memory of family. No memory of self. Certainly no memory of the otherworldly rock her husband dug up from the lake, no awareness of her body condensing into hardened aspect, limbs lengthening and firming, no awareness of the tough and knobby solidness, only the one thought, the omnipresent mantra image, Twiggy, Twiggy, Twiggy.
The thing that was Mary rose from the bed and flopped on the floor around noon. In the mass of lashing tendrils might barely be discerned the vaguest semblance of a torso. Two of the thicker branches moved like legs, while two more resembled arms. There was no head, merely a misshapen knot. Clacking sounds of rubbing branches accompanied the thing’s attempts to extricate itself from what was left of clothing, and it trashed much of the room with its hard limbs flailing in the process, but finally freed itself, and stood still awhile as if in meditation, gently swaying in the middle of the mess. Then the thing that was Mary, which had become Twiggy, moved nimble as a spider out of the room and down the stairs. Splintering the front door, it scuttled outside and headed into the woods....
They sat on thickly cushioned swivel stools at the counter. Behind them some of the tables were redwood slabs on burl bases, rich mahogany marbled wildly with radiating rings and peppered with minute constellations of character, and the entire shape of the slab was irregular and unique because it came from burls with knots and roots and pockets milled into two- and three-inch slabs, no two exactly alike in the world. In front of them stood a blonde-haired, blue-eyed animatronic waitress wearing Daisy Dukes, trim white fringe on her tight cutoff jeans fluffy and clean as if fresh from the wash.
“So what was it like living when ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ was on?”
“Yeah, that’s a pretty good one. I haven’t seen him do it for a couple years, but when my youngest brother was nine or ten, and he’s I guess twelve years younger than me, he used to go around wearing one of those long metal tennis ball cans all the way up to his armpit, and wear a long-sleeved shirt over his arm so that when we punched it or if he crashed into something it would seem bionic. And he used to squint one eye to show that it was bionic, too. And he would move super-fast, pretending to go in slow-mo. I guess he’d be eighty-eight now, if he’s still…you know.”
“It’s sure not impossible. I know people in their nineties and hundreds. You should try to look him up. Maybe he can help you.”
“You know, you’re right. That means I’m a hundred. I might not look a day over twenty-five right now, but I feel a hundred years old inside. I wonder if I’ll suddenly start aging on the outside to catch up.”
Diego had his phone out. It was the size of a corn chip, and at the touch of a very tiny button seemed to expand to a door-sized golden rectangle glittering with possibility.
“I’m not seeing any Perlmans in the directory,” he said.
The Hippie saw in the door-sized hologram-like screen which was not actually there clips of advertising firing away, dehumanized women shining and jostled and screaming in fearful ecstasy the names of products, everything on-screen all frantic pulsing color spinning to catch attention, and looking to the Hippie like a jumbled mess of garbage falling constantly apart. Pictures of the world beyond Redwoodland instilled fear and reverence. Famine and flame and deadly disease. You couldn’t look away, and there was always more.
“Enjoy, boys,” Cheryl, the animatronic waitress said, swiveling over with the orders.
“I keep expecting to see Yul Brynner come in wearing a black cowboy hat,” said the Hippie between bites of bacon cheeseburger.
“I know the movie you’re talking about,” Diego said with a mouthful of pizza.
“Right! But it’s not like that here. There are such things as walking androids in the world, true. They don’t have them here, though. Too expensive. Too much hassle. These ones here are hard enough to keep up.”
Cheryl just smiled. Nice midriff. Showed a lot of latex.
The Hippie thanked Diego for the burger when they’d finished. Diego left his pizza crust.
“No problem,” Diego said outside. “I get it at a discount.”
“I guess I’ll have to figure out how to start getting some of those credits,” the Hippie said.
“I guess you better. Where you going?”
“I think it’s time to take off.”
“Take off? Where to?”
“Oh, I think I’ll start by going back to that tree, see if I can’t fall asleep.”
“You got any more of those weird mushrooms?”
“All right then, good luck.”
“Thanks for being cool with me, dude.”
“No prob, dude.”
Deep down the Hippie wondered if maybe Diego wouldn’t be letting him go. Wondered if he wouldn’t have to turn around to see while he was walking away Diego with the pistol leveled. But all Diego did was hop on his hover scooter and glide down past the high school. The Hippie went in the opposite direction, back uphill, toward the south end of town, taking a short cut across the bough-laced grounds of the Whispering Woods Motel, where animatronic figures might have acted out his youth, and the short cut led him to the dirt road, authentic dirt, rife with authentic potholes, where houses lined either side of the road, and when in passing he tripped a motion sensor here or there he saw the young animatronic dads with their long thick sideburns and huge pointy collars flashing teeth over drinks at chicks with Farrah hair who were moms and wore halter tops and large colorful audibly jangling bracelets and went heavy on mascara, and in one house he saw, as he peeped and he creeped around like the Frankenstein monster, a little blonde animatronic boy fiddling with Atari tanks, an actual Chuck Connors Tin Can Alley set placed in view behind him, and a Daisy BB gun standing in the corner, Johnny West on a shelf next to Quick Draw Action Sam Cobra. Past some houses farther on downhill he found the old trail that took you down to the forest. Wide, tall, dark, huge. When the presence of the forest began to be felt, the vast sound of stillness broken by sharp pipings of birds, there appeared the haunted house, the real haunted house, the one that he knew in his youth and now again saw, restored before him in all its moldering glory. A couple of animatronic Huck Finns sprang to life for hick fun on the roof when the Hippie broke the beam, but he kept on going down to the bottom of the hill, thereby meeting the furthest limits of a large tract of redwood grove, where the trees were much bigger, and the air far more dark.
Suddenly, the sound of something moving. He’d tripped a beam, he knew, before the voice came, a voice from above.
“A decade is no mere number of years.” The Hippie looked up the nearby redwood at the huge talking burl. “A time is a spirit. If the time is a positive one, it needs to be carried on.” The mouth of the big fake burl clacked when it talked. “So be sure to stick to the rules, and remember, anything you can see can see you, too. Our Redwoodland Security family finds the darnedest ways to keep a real good eye on us to make sure everybody stays safe. Lookout for Bigfeet now, be sure to visit our gift shops, and keep on stayin’ groovy!”
Slowly, the conical brown heads of Bigfeet rose on neckless shoulders from behind fallen logs and large clumps of brush, and as he moved along the trail, slowly they descended. Little woodland creatures lingering unnaturally seemed to the Hippie like camera-laden spies, but he made it at last to his tree, a great redwood with a split at the base revealing a cave-like interior. Trembling, he went inside. Naturally everything he had experienced was all too much to bear. His system couldn’t handle it. If he could just go to sleep, probably he would wake up and everything would be fine in 1975. And he would never do mushrooms again. Inside it was dark, the wedge-shaped opening allowing little of the filtered forest light. The problem now was being wired. He tried to sleep, but was too wired to be tired. When the omnipresent thought of what on earth he was going to do became too much, the Hippie jumped out of the tree and ran through the woods tripping beams that sprang striding Bigfeet to life and made talking burls clack behind him as he ran pit pat down the forest path.
It was in the wood yard at The Burl Barn that the Hippie saw Diego again.
“I figured,” Diego said, crunching across the gravel drive, “figured you’d come out at the Old Graveyard, or on the Avenue, or from up behind The Burl Barn here.” The hover scooter was over by a wolf-bear-raven-Bigfoot totem pole, and next to that was an animatronic chainsaw-carving tableau, featuring a plaid-clad carver covered in sawdust releasing from a block of wood a standing bear holding a salmon, and also featuring a guy with an ax in his hands perpetually preparing for the Standing Block Chop.
“I recognize this guy’s name,” said the Hippie, reading from a brass plaque. “So little Carl wound up a Timbersports champion.”
“They say that one’s modeled on what the actual guy looked like. They got a bunch like that.”
The Hippie wondered aloud if he’d see one of himself. This thought was a big adjustment from having sat in front of “All in the Family” what was for him only a matter of hours before.
“I don’t think so,” Diego said. “I think I’d recognize you. At least you get represented. Nobody from my world gets that here at all. And now here you are, no ID and no idea what a credit is. You have to be a citizen to get credits, but you don’t even have any paperwork at all. Undocumented, and nowhere to go. Man, you’re lucky if I even hide you out. What kind of skills you got?” This last he said barely retaining a snort of contempt. To his surprise the Hippie said that he was pretty good with carpentry.
They worked out a deal, stopping on the way back up to the house to chuck rocks at the swordfish. Diego had the master remote control with him now, having left the pistol at home, and they listened to Neil Young’s Zuma again through the motel recreation room jukebox without ever setting foot inside.
When they got to Diego’s house, his parents, in their seventies, still weren’t back from work. Diego gave the Hippie the tour of the house from the outside, explaining where he was not to go, and basically gave him the lay of the land while he took the Hippie to the van.
It was a little bit overgrown. Weeds grew up around the antique tires, which were flat. It was a brown van in its time, and yellow. A rusty door squeaked open and a musty smell came out. The carpet inside didn’t look too bad. Shag.
“I can put some of my credits on another card for you. You can get what you need down at the café. Most days the park has guests, so it won’t look like this all the time, that’s for sure. But I can pretty much always scrape up something for you to do. Like right now if you want to start on those bullet holes in the wood over at your old house.” Diego showed the Hippie where they kept the tools....
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